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Film: David Onyemata trending towards becoming Pro Bowl-caliber DT

He took a step last year and showed all the qualities he needed to be worth the contract he received in 2020.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league, Canada’s own David Onyemata is quietly trending towards becoming a perennial Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle.

With the performance this guy put on display last season, you’d think he’d be recognized more across the league as a high-level three-technique tackle.

He recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2020 and was one of eight DT’s in the league to rank in the top 15 in the regular season in both QB pressures (46) and defensive stops (29) — according to PFF. These pressure and stop numbers were also career bests for Onyemata, as was his 10.9% missed tackle rate, despite playing the third-lowest season snap total of his career.

That last part will almost surely change in 2021, as he’s the only returning starter at D Tackle with an extended amount of snaps played throughout his career due to the departures of Malcom Brown and Sheldon Rankins. With Malcolm Roach, Shy Tuttle and Ryan Glasgow as the only other DT’s with real playing time last year, I would expect Onyemata’s snap count to go up.

But with the leap he took last year after the three-year, $26 million contract he signed in 2020, he seems to be up to the task.

Looking past the numbers for a bit, the improvements he showed as an overall player last year were so very encouraging to see.

A versatile lineman who can play the three-tech spot (between tackle and guard) and a bit one-tech (between center and guard), the Manitoba Mauler has improved his pass-rush technique and consistency. He came into the league with brute strength and pretty good elusiveness for a large man, but he was very raw.

Basically his only pass rush move in his first few years was the bull rush, and it worked at times, but he didn’t have many counter moves. Now, he’s still got that bull rush but he’s also got other options at the table if that’s not there.

He’s always been great at collapsing the pocket, and last year he showed the ability to win one-on-one matchups when presented.

With vicious rip moves to both sides when the bull rush isn’t working to combine with his above-average athleticism and agility, the guy is simply a load to handle with one guy.

You add this with his willingness and proficiency to eat up and hold his one against double teams, and you’ve got a quality pass rusher.

He’s also just destructive on stunts, as you can see him bully his way through two dudes below to get a pressure on Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan from the nose tackle spot.

It always felt like with his physical gifts, it was just a matter of time before he showed something like this, getting to the quarterback consistently and often. He just needed a few years of simmering.

Now that being said. He’s always been a menace against the run.

He has the pure strength to eat up double teams and the wiggle to squirm through gaps and make plays like the one above.

Even on screen passes, he can run down skill position players.

Look how quickly he diagnoses and reacts to this play. He knows it’s a screen pass because he gets through the line so easily, and he just reads and reacts to Matt Ryan’s eyes and makes the play.

This is how he’s had at least 20 defensive stops in every season since 2017, and PFF run defense grades of 73.9 or higher in all but one of those seasons.

He’s always had the tools, and it’s great to see Onyemata take a big step towards greatness. He’s a complete player who’s been a key factor to the Saints’ continued defensive success over the past four years, and I wouldn’t expect that to change any time soon.

Hopefully this trend of improved play continues and he gets the recognition he deserves in 2021.


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